OT: Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12
The Teacher continues his meandering style today, repeatedly cycling from positions of utter hopelessness to ones of limited meaning, and back. On the hopelessness side, he notes that he sees people oppressed, with no relief (4:1-3); that he sees people alone, with no help (4:8-12); that he sees people full of words before God, with no meaning (5:1-7); and that he sees people toil and labor, with no enjoyment (5:10-11, 13, 6:1-7). All of these things depress him, and impress upon him the meaninglessness of life.
However, despite the Teacher's words to the contrary, he does not seem to believe that everything is utterly meaningless, as he periodically makes positive value judgments regarding different states of life. For one thing, he understands the value of community in helping people through life (4:9-12). For another, he recognizes that wisdom is better than foolishness (4:13, though he definitely questions even that in 5:20 and 6:8). And third, he affirms that a life of contentment is more meaningful than one of constant striving (4:6, 5:12).
Most of the above concessions are couched in terms of "better." For example, 4:6 says,
"Better one handful with tranquility
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind."
There is one point in today's reading, however, where the Teacher describes something as not just "better," but "good" in itself. In 5: 18-20, he affirms that, "it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart." While I liked the idea of working hard and being content, that last part kind of got me. It seems that, in verse 20, the Teacher is essentially saying, "Don't overthink. You'll be a lot happier if you go through life without too much reflection. Too much thinking will just depress you." Apparently, he does not agree with Socrates that "the unexamined life is not worth living." Though I think Socrates is a little dramatic in his statement, I do generally concur with the broader sentiment. And honestly, I have found that thinking about life has helped my enjoyment of it. Yes, it has caused me many headaches and confusion, but it's also helped a lot of things make a lot more sense.
NT: 2 Cor. 6:14-7:7
Verses 6:14-7:1 paint an interesting picture, especially when viewed with 1 Cor. 5. In the earlier passage, Paul notes that it is impossible not to associate with sexually immoral people who are in the world. Specifically, he says, "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world" (1 Cor. 5:9-10). Here, though, Paul clarifies that we should "not be yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (6:14). Paul also tells the Corinthian Christians to "come out from them and be separate," and to "purify [them]selves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God"(6:17, 7:1). Together, these two passages paint a vivid picture of the tightrope Christians are supposed to walk. We are supposed to live in this world. How else could we fulfill Jesus' commands to reach out to the world (Matt. 28:18-20)? After all, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl (Matt. 5:15). In order to shine a light, we have to live in the midst of darkness.
However, in order to shine a light, we also have to be a light. And that's what I believe Paul is saying in this passage. If we are so much a part of this world that people can't tell the difference between it and us, then we can't fulfill our purpose. By definition, light is separate from darkness. As Christians living in this world, we can't let our lights be snuffed out by over-assimilation. To that end, we must constantly seek to "purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit," so that we can be that light to the world.
A simple, happy praise psalm.
Today's proverb sounds kind of like Ecclesiastes:
"He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth
and he who gives gifts to the rich--both come to poverty."